At first glance, the group of scruffy-looking students could be attending a meeting of any old debating club, but as they begin to speak it soon becomes clear that they all share the same secret.
A shy young woman is among the first. She admits she is still a long way from telling her parents the truth about herself. “My closest friends know,” she says, “but where I come from, I only know one other person like me, who was a teacher. I will tell my parents in the end, I can’t now; at least, not until I am financially independent.”
Going around the circle, each member shares their story and says whether or not they are “out” of the closet.
But while they use the lexicon of the gay and lesbian movement they are not speaking of their sexuality: they are not gay or lesbian, but atheist and agnostic.
A decade ago, a group non-believers meeting publicly on a university campus like this one at Virgina Tech would have been rare, but over the last five years the number of student “freethinker” groups in the US, has begun to snowball: from 100 in 2007 their number has leapt to more than 350 today, according to the nationwide Secular Student Alliance.